Tips To Avoid Old Fart Syndrome
By Karen Beatty
My Woodstock generation has an odd way of talking about old people as if we are not included in the category. Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll may have gotten us through our youth and beyond, but that mantra can’t be the only balm for our aging bodies and social interactions. I have to smile when my friends, who blithely abandoned their parents decades ago, are put out that their own children at times relate to them with dutiful and palpable reluctance. After all, unlike our own parents, we are “cool.” Though we definitely need to get over our hip (or hippie) younger selves, we don’t need to present as the dreaded old farts of yore. Below are a few tips for my generation to avoid “old fart” syndrome while enjoying the benefits of aging in wisdom with senior discounts:
Figure out the basics of the Internet
And not just for email or silly Facebook posts. Researching information online is the way to replace your fading memories of people, places, and things, and, of course, to recall those all important song lyrics. Deem your Google or other search engines a life ring for fact checking your assertions (or suspicions). Remember, just because you think it or heard it, or even experienced it, doesn’t make it so. You should definitely get to know www.snopes.com, or other Internet sources for validating information and rumors. Along the same lines, if you are going to talk politics, especially on Facebook, make sure you know the facts and aren’t just spouting sound bites from TV or radio talking heads. Familiarity with both sides of the issue and an international perspective will lend you credibility and maybe even a slew of “likes.”
Mindfulness is mandatory
This does not mean you have to don yoga togs or perch on a meditation pillow. The generally accepted definition of mindfulness is “paying alert attention in the present moment.” Especially important is taking caution around uneven surfaces, escalators, and sharp edges, but it is equally important to attend to how people are responding to you, which sometimes belies the polite smiles. As Kenny Rogers sings, when it comes to playing your social cards “you’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.”
Rails and banisters are your allies
You don’t need to clutch them as if you are about to be swept away by a tsunami, but you must be mindful of staying near the rail side of stairs and having your gripping hand free of encumbrances. Counting the steps as you ascend and descend is a good way to attend to stairs. As we age we must compensate for our loss of balance as well as hearing and eyesight. Many of the aging fear heart attacks and strokes, when, in fact, it is an inadvertent fall that could direct us toward a life of dependency, dysfunction or catastrophic disability. Now is the time for you to literally “hang in there.”
Verbal repetition gets dull and tiresome
Even if you are telling the same intriguing story to different people, the telling eventually loses its zing. You will do better offering your mature, historical perspective on current events, limiting your stories about the good old days, and putting your nostalgia into a memoir. Preserve and share your memories but don’t retreat to them.
Don’t just listen to the music in your head
You don’t have to enjoy contemporary music to understand or appreciate it. In the 60s there was this quip, “The definition of classical music is: music that really IS better than it sounds.” So give popular music a fair listen. One shortcut way to get familiar with music trends is to watch the music award shows in various categories. Pay attention to what the younger generation is resonating to, even if the genre is not your cup of tea. You might be surprised when a particular new song or some lyrics come rapping at your consciousness.
Don’t attempt to manipulate the larger environment
Sometimes in shared spaces you just have to adapt your particular temperament, taste or needs. It’s similar to the common courtesy of not allowing an unruly child to disrupt an event or dining experience. At the same time, you may have to tolerate the annoying children of inappropriate parents; perhaps you have forgotten that not everyone adored you as a tyke. This may mean adjusting your attitude as well as your behavior. Yes, there are facial expressions and body language associated with old farts. The royal road to Old Fartdom, in fact, is paved with bricks of grumpy, fussy and resentful. Have you ever heard the expression, “If it’s too loud then you’re too old”? On the other hand, if it’s not loud enough, be prepared to sit closer, deploy a listening device or even forego the particular experience.
Stop obsessing over or glorifying the past
It just makes you seem, well, old. If younger people are idealizing the past, you can simply smile and agree that it was great with some exceptions. (Are you familiar with that game, “Let us guess your age”? I know a young man in his 40s who is miffed that the guess always comes out much older than he actually is. He describes himself as a Conservative Republican. Just saying….) Concern yourself, instead, with finding something new to do, as a way to meet others and to keep your brain cells active. Whether you learn to play tennis or pick up a language, new activities immerse you in the here and now, while projecting you toward future accomplishments. Of course, doing volunteer work or finding a way to serve others, at any age, opens doors to both happiness and relevance.
You don’t have to be stylish to have style
Adopt aspects of the current styles only if they work for your body type and are comfortable. If you are a bag lady (and who isn’t?), you can be so in style. Lose the plastic bags and supermarket freebies and pick up something colorful, fashionable, or dignified, whether for the market, for get-togethers, or for a night on the town. There are definitely times to drop comfort and convenience for dignity. Moreover, it’s always important to be clean and stain-free, even around the house. If your eyes are bad, inspect your clothes carefully for spills and splashes which are guaranteed to evoke the “gross” response from others.
Don’t just say whatever comes into your head
That may be entertaining from two-year-olds or provocative from puerile politicians, but it’s a sure sign of unbridled aging for elders. Think or be mindful before you unleash chatter, particularly as a corrective or critical response. When you feel age entitled to spout whatever comes to mind, remember that there may be consequences beyond amusement. Specifically, consider dropping the judgments and negativity. As you age, it’s a good idea to become more curious than critical, more contemplative than reactive. The pathway out of Old Fartdom is labeled gratitude, humility, and kindness.
Limit discussions of your maladies and conditions
Some things are better discussed with consenting peers, in a limited way, than with your family or the general public. And make sure you have looked well for missing items before announcing that they are lost, stolen or mysteriously missing. Start by saying to yourself: I will find it; it will turn up; it’s in there. The older you get, the more you should embrace the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. Have your money, credit card,and specific questions ready before you get to the front of the pay or inquiry line. Step aside while you count your change or put things away. Make a habit of writing things down and discretely consult your lists, reminders, and calendar.
“Own” your disabilities
As you age you are likely to start losing parts and functions. Making people guess what you want and need or expect from them is just annoying and frustrating to others. Drop the pride and politely identify the help you need. Be grateful if you get it and don’t whine, pout or try to induce guilt if you don’t. It may gall you to put on a happy face, but gratitude and happiness are reliable allies as you age.
Be gracious and generous
Yes, you have heard this one before, despite the losses and suffering, aging remains a privilege. Denial, on the other hand, is a nuisance. Accept that you will die; it’s a natural part of life. There is no need to avoid the topic or to obsess over it. And for goodness sake (and theirs) don’t make your offspring clean up your mess after you die; start sorting, dumping and identifying before you get too ill or feeble to do so. Regarding finances and resources: remember that rainy day you have been saving for? Well, it’s raining. Enjoy what you have; share with others while you are still here; live or vacation where people want to be with you. At the same time, it’s best to acknowledge that your kids (and the world) don’t owe you anything, including their time and attention. Make them want to give it to you and be with you because you are grateful for what they give and what you get and because you are not an old fart!
About the Author – Karen Beatty
I am a 71 years old retired college professor who trains counselors and works in trauma response. I was born in Eastern Kentucky, came of age in New York City, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. Yeah, I’m still cool but I know how much I walk the line.